Thursday, January 14, 2010

Day 58: Elephants and Oil Lamps

India never ceases to surprise you. Really. Kerala never ceases to suprise you. Really really.

Today is Makarasankranthi - the 1st day of the month of makaram (I believe this means that the sun moves to the sign of Capricorn) and it is meant to be pretty auspicious. So in the morning, my mom told me that we have to go to the temple in the evening which I agreed to.

In the afternoon, as I was talking to my hubby (who has not accompanied me on this trip) on the phone, I heard the sound of an elephant passing by my house. I told my hubby, "I can hear an elephant outside", which I believe, reconfirmed his belief that I live in a jungle infested with elephants and snakes. But these are elephants that are meant to be decorated and usually become main fixtures at temple festivals. The fact that one was passing by my house means that it is trying to get to one of those temples, which also usually means that something special is going to happen.

Later in the evening, we joined a gang of neighbours all of whom marched to the temple with sticks in their hands. On closer inspection, I realized that these sticks had pieces of cloth wrapped at one end. They told me that the sticks were meant to be mini torches and that we are going to have an event at the temple where the people of the town would come together to light 10,008 oil lamps.

The interesting part is that I have never even heard of something like this before in my 16 years of residence in this town. Apparently the custom started only 6-7 years ago, much after I left for Singapore.

And what a mindblowing experience it was! This temple, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is right in the middle of the town, in a humungous piece of land. The rest of the town is designed in such a way that there are roads branching off from beyond the temple grounds. The grounds are so expansive that you dont even hear the noise from the traffic.

And today, I saw the whole temple and its grounds lit up! With 10,008 oil lamps blazing! And I was part of the crowd trying to perch on top of small ledges to reach the lamps on the highest rows of the temple walls or try and reach out to light the lamps that made different designs on the ground such as a conch or an "OM". This was followed by a bit of fireworks as well.

And later I witnessed some fireworks and a procession with the decorated elephants, young girls carrying "thaalams" (which are like something they hold in order to welcome guests and in these guests were the dieties from other temples who is visiting this one), miniatures of other temples made of bamboos, mock chariots etc etc etc.

It was a wonderful, absolutely delightful experience! I can't believe such an extensive celebration has sprung up over such a short time! Totally a beautiful day!

People of Thrissur - Do visit the Vadakkunnathan temple next time you are in town for Mankarasankranthi. It's worth it.

942 more to go.

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